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In the Red and Brown Water

On the heels of Curious Theatre Company's announced commitment to "serial storytelling," we have the company's second production of Tarell Alvin McCraney's The Brother/Sister Plays' trilogy: the regional premiere of In the Red and Brown Water, the prequel to the company's 2013 production of The Brothers Size (which will be reprised this summer).

Theo Wilson as Shango and Kristen Adele as Oya
Theo Wilson as Shango
and Kristen Adele as Oya
Photo: Michael Ensminger
We did not exaggerate in 2013 when we said of McCraney that he has a gift that compares in musicality and passion to that of Langston Hughes, and which we are blessed to revisit in this exquisite production directed by Dee Covington.

In a small swamp town in the Louisiana bayou, we find Oya (Kristen Adele) a gifted athlete (runner) coming of age with a variety of challenges, including her dying mother, Mama Moja (Jada Suzanne Dixon) and a host of not so gentlemanly callers—Shango (Theo Wilson), Ogun (Cajardo Rameer Lindsey) and, when he is grown, Elegba (Damion Hoover)—all of whom desire to have babies with her.

Jada Suzanne Dixon as Mama Moja and Damion Hoover as Elegba
Jada Suzanne Dixon as Mama Moja
and Damion Hoover as Elegba
Photo: Michael Ensminger
The performances are nothing short of magical. Between McCraney's soaring lyricism, Covington's inventive directing, and a consummately creative ensemble, we are left jaws agape, marveling at the maturity of McCraney's work.

McCraney's unique style in this piece—having each character periodically narrate his or her own stage directions—sets up a series of self-conscious conceits that are froth with humor and sarcasm, providing a rich subtext throughout this incredibly poetic and dramatic journey, all of which is topped off by a number of timely, heart-wrenching spirituals.

Cajardo Rameer Lindsey as Ogun and Kirsten Adele as Oya
Cajardo Rameer Lindsey as Ogun
and Kirsten Adele as Oya
Photo: Michael Ensminger
Adele's imaginative responses to what life throws at Oya from all directions is the heart of this emotional ride. She is, for a time, protected by her mother, who is revered for her Yorùbá-inspired premonitions and dream interpretations.

But, much like Greek drama, in the sense of tragic imperatives, Mama Moja is, depite her best efforts before leaving this plane, unable to alter her daughter's fate, as one would expect from a story based on Yorùbá mythology. Dixon's deft mix of matriarchy and gris-gris in Mama Moja is iconic, with a certain je ne sais quoi transmitted to Adele's Oya, to navigate among her suitors.

Adrianna Coleman as Shun, Theo Wilson as Shango, and Laurence Curry as The Egungun
Adrianna Coleman as Shun,
Theo Wilson as Shango,
and Laurence Curry as The Egungun
Photo: Michael Ensminger
In the Yorùbá creation myth, Oya was Shango's third wife—the tempest meets the lightning bolt—and that is the chemistry generated by Adele and Wilson, no matter to whom either of their characters may be otherwise engaged, including Shun (Adrianna Coleman), Ogun, and Elegba. Wilson wows us with his monologue on the characters that inhabit the local church. Coleman sizzles as Shun (Oshun, the second wife of Shango in the Yorùbá cosmology). Lindsey's Ogun (the god of iron and metallurgy) miraculously transforms from a stuttering admirer-of-Oya-from-afar to a confident lover. Hoover is a crackup as the irrepressible and conniving Elegba.

Geri J. Crawley brings down the house as Aunt Elegua; Ed Cord keeps us on our toes as the edgy white guy; and Laurence Curry, as The Egungun (the ancestors), wakes the dead with his hip hop.

As in the sequel, the rhythms and choreography dreamed up by Covington and the ensemble are mesmerizing and infectious, while performed on a wonderfully adaptive set design by Shannon McKinney and Chip Walton, and tuned to a subtle and telling sound design by Jason Ducat.

Curious Theatre Company's regional premiere of Tarell Alvin McCraney's In the Red and Brown Water runs through April 18th. For tickets: 303-893-4100 or curioustheatre.org.

Bob Bows

 

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